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Mark Zuckerberg on Sheryl Sandberg's Superpower: ‘It's Just Exceptionally Rare to Find People' With Both ‘IQ and EQ'

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According to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one relationship has "defined the growth" of the social media company: his 14-year partnership with COO Sheryl Sandberg.

On a recent episode of "The Tim Ferriss Show" podcast, hosted by tech advisor and self-help author Tim Ferriss, Zuckerberg said that Sandberg's ability to balance business strategy with professional relationships both improved the company and created a high-profile model of the ideal Meta employee.

Much of that, Zuckerberg said, is due to her "unique" skillset. "I think she has a very good combination of IQ and EQ," Zuckerberg said. "If you get someone who's great at strategy or great at product and they're not a great manager, that's great. If you can have someone who's excellent at one of those things, you hire them every day. I think it's just exceptionally rare to find people who spike in both of those areas."

While IQ measures an individual's intellectual reasoning, EQ — which stands for emotional quotient — is a person's ability to understand, exhibit and manage their emotions. EQ skills, often referred to as "emotional intelligence," are particularly useful when managing stress, communicating and empathizing with others, and navigating conflict.

Zuckerberg pointed to Meta's early days as an example of how Sandberg's combination of IQ and EQ helped enable the company to grow past the start-up phase.

Initially, he said, it was easy to be "blunt and direct" with colleagues when there simply weren't very many employees in the building. As the company expanded, both in scale and scope, the workforce became more polite — making it "tougher to give hard feedback," Zuckerberg said.

Sandberg was the exception, consistently pushing her colleagues with constructive criticism, Zuckerberg said.

"Sheryl always says that the amount of progress that we make is directly proportional to the number of hard conversations that we're willing to have," he said. "So trying to build that into the cultural operation system — which is, 'we're just going to really reward and focus on being direct with each other' — I think is a really important thing."

Experts say that approach to leadership — prioritizing emotional intelligence just as much as, or more than, book smarts — is often the right way to go. The trait makes leaders compelling because of their "ability to identify and monitor emotions (of their own and of others)," Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman, who specializes in EQ, wrote for CNBC Make It in 2020.

Emotional intelligence isn't a born trait, Goleman noted: Rather, skills like social awareness, self-awareness and relationship management are acquired through conscious practice.

Perhaps those skills can only get you so far. In recent years, reports from inside Meta have cited rising tensions between Zuckerberg and Sandberg.

A July 2021 book titled "An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination," written by New York Times technology reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, referenced accounts from Meta employees who noted a strain between the two leaders following a series of political scandals centered around Facebook.

Those scandals included allegations that Facebook helped swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica affair – in which a political consulting firm working for Trump hijacked personal data from Facebook users – and ex-Facebook product manager Frances Haugen's testimony to Congress last year that Facebook's algorithms prioritized traffic over user safety.

"The Trump era tested a central relationship at Facebook — between Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg — and she became increasingly isolated," Frenkel and Kang wrote. "The view from inside the upper echelons of the company was clear: It felt as though Facebook was no longer led by a No. 1 and No. 2, but a No. 1 and many."

At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times the characterization was false, and that Sandberg's role within the company had not changed.

Meta, Zuckerberg and Sandberg did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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